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Nanotechnology and Biophysics in Medicine (NanoBioMed)

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Medical nanotechnology and applied biophysics entails a practical approach to use nanotechnology and materials combined with biophysical methods to understand and enhance medical treatment. This entails the development of novel drug delivery approaches and nano-imaging agents for treating infections, targeted delivery, gene-transfection, advanced chemo-therapy, but also using biophysical approaches and techniques to understand how nanomaterials interact with cells, how these can be modulated and whether physical stimuli could affect interaction of cells with materials. This includes how cells interact with their environment namely the extracellular matrix and other cells be it in health tissues, tumors, of fibrotic tissues.​

Programme Leader   Mission  

Nanotechnology is a highly interdisciplinary research area that is applied to many different industries, including medicine. It is based on the interplay of contributions from chemistry, physics, biology, pharmacology, materials science, medicine, and engineering. The integration of disciplines is exploited to generate structures with dimensions on the nanometer scale originating from various synthetic components such as metal, metal oxide, polymers or are of biological/bioinspired origin such as oligonucleotides, proteins, other (bio) polymers, viruses and cellular components. This diverse set of tunable nanomaterials can be tailored to meet specific demands and functions and can even be combined to create hybrid nanosturctures.
Within this programme we will employ tools and materials from nanobiotechnology to fabricate powerful drug carrier systems and nanoscale surface coatings. These systems will be composed to a large extent on oligonucleotide and peptide scaffolds or their hybrids with other materials like synthetic polymers since these materials optimally allow the design of nano-objects with respect to size, shape and functionality.
Starting out from such materials, the efforts and mission of the programme can be summarized as follows:

  1. Fabrication of multifunctional nanostructures to facilitate targeted delivery, imaging, and understanding the biophysical principle that are associated with these processes.
  2. Delivery of highly potent pharmaceutical components of synthetic and biological origin for therapeutic applications.
  3. Development of new in vitro and in vivo methods to investigate and prove the efficacy of (targeted) drug delivery systems with an emphasis on spatial resolution in the nanometer regime.
  4. Employ biophysical approaches and knowledge to understand the key parameters involved in the interaction between nanomaterials and biological systems, which includes membrane interactions, cellular uptake mechanisms, and in vivo alterations of nanomaterials in circulation.
Description of the Programme  

Medical nanotechnology and applied biophysics entails a practical approach to use nanotechnology and materials combined with biophysical methods to understand and enhance medical treatment. This entails the development of novel drug delivery approaches and nano-imaging agents for treating infections, targeted delivery, gene-transfection, advanced chemo-therapy, but also using biophysical approaches and techniques to understand how nanomaterials interact with cells, how these can be modulated and whether physical stimuli could affect interaction of cells with materials. This includes how cells interact with their environment namely the extracellular matrix and other cells be it in health tissues, tumors, of fibrotic tissues.

Two approaches are of focus within the program that on the one hand addresses diseases from the nanoscale (subcellular) and on the other hand from the tissue pathology. These the aspect are in close contact with one another as they will affect each other, makes the environment adaptable and dynamic, and influences disease development and affects delivery strategies. Targeted delivery is more than having the medicine at the right place inside the body, it also needs to be at the right location at the right time, pass the correct barriers, and pharmaceutical components need to keep their activity. While targeting is often associated with having the nanocarriers modified with the right recognition peptides or sequences, still tuning the translocation of these carriers across cellular membranes, biological barriers from the bloodstream to the actual tissue such as the blood brain barrier amongst others, are of great importance. Biophysical approaches, techniques, and knowledge will greatly help in understanding other means of control than mere biochemistry as this is often masked by in vivo conditions. Tuning the size, shape, rigidity, deformatibility, selective degradability are all part of the possibilities to direct and stimulate uptake and translocation but also interacting with encountered conditions such as high protein content (protein corona formation), altering pH, high ionic strength, and phagocytic events that all possibly prevent the nanocarrier from perfoming its duty. New nanosystems will be developed based on such concepts and a multitude of functions will be incorporated to enter the field of theranostics where detection, sensing, and treatment are combined in a single tunable system.

While treatment is often envisioned to be mediated by pharmaceuticals, understanding the biophysics might provide better insights into possible treatment approaches to enhance the efficacy of drugs. The most detrimental diseases are associated with and altered tissue pathology. Considering in cancer that the tumor tissues are always different in properties such as composition, mechanical properties, cellular behavior, it is not farfetched that influencing these phenomena will affect the disease progression and thereby understanding how to better treat such diseases. Altered tissue morphology, mechanics, and composition is also found in fibrosis and along with cancer, these two medical conditions claim the most lives every year. Biophysics and the biophysical tools, which includes high-end microscopy, imaging approaches, computational techniques, and analysis equipment such as atomic force microscopy and optical tweezers to probe interactions at the interfaces, will be of utmost importance to understand the altered physics and thereby being able to predict or direct design parameters needed to more successfully treat these diseases.

While worldwide, these initiative as just starting to be discovered, immediate clinical trials are not abundantly foreseen. However, there are already various systems available that could enter such a clinical phase in the coming 5 to 10 years. The connection to clinician that are prone to implement new innovative techniques are established and continuously evaluated to maximize translatability. Also close collaborations with med-tech and life science companies have been established to not only impact clinical research but to be able to exploit the commercial character of the research that is performed within NanoBioMed. The diverse character of the program highlighted by the various members from different discipline ranging from medicine, engineering, chemistry, physics, pharmacy and the program transcends faculties as only impactful progress can be made by inclusion of relevant scientific domains and knowledge.

Relevance to Healthy Ageing  

Our programme will affect the healthy ageing initiative in a very direct fashion as cancer treatment and understanding is at the very heart of the program. With increasing age, cancer will become almost unavoidable and thereby understanding this disease will be highly impactful. Additionally, in the pursuit of enhancing the field of theranostics, the knowledge can also be applied to other diseases and not only cancer but also within orthopedics, ophthalmology, pulmonary diseases and others are envisioned that all are associated in many forms with old age.

Principal Investigators  

FSE Members
Palasantzas,G.P
Quax,W.J
Hinrichs,W.L.J.
Anna Salvati
Christopher Aberg*

UMCG Members
Rijn,P. van
Schirhagl,R
Zuhorn,I.S.
Kamps, J.A.A.M.